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Plex, Fiix acquisitions bridging IT and OT

July 14, 2021

Over the past year, operational changes in productivity and flexibility have become two of manufacturers’ biggest challenges. To meet these, Rockwell Automation has continued to evolve its own technologies. In addition, key acquisitions of Plex Systems and Fiix have boosted and expanded its offerings to help companies bring IT and operational technology (OT) together.

“We see a growing need to improve production and improve compliance,” said Rockwell Automation Chairman and CEO Blake Moret who spoke during the June 29 keynote address of ROKLive 2021, the company’s virtual conference exploring the explosion of digital technology in manufacturing today. “Companies are looking to upgrade their solutions to a modern, cloud-based manufacturing execution system,” Moret said. “The Plex platform is designed to accelerate digital transformation, and it’s perfectly aligned with Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk offering. No one is better equipped to bring IT and OT together.”

Rockwell Automation is merging IT and OT to bring the benefits of The Connected Enterprise to the production system, explained Tessa Myers, vice president and general manager of productions & operations managements solutions at Rockwell Automation. “Our controllers and intelligent devices are the building blocks of those systems,” she said. “We thrive in data-rich environments.”

Cloud apps promise faster time to value

The $2.22 billion acquisition of Plex Systems adds cloud-native, smart MES capabilities to the Rockwell Automation portfolio. Plex offers a single-instance, multi-tenant software-as-a-service (SaaS) manufacturing platform operating at scale, including advanced MES, quality and supply-chain management capabilities. Plex has more than 700 customers and manages more than 8 billion transactions per day. Its software capabilities will be further differentiated by Rockwell Automation's global market access, complementary industry expertise and ability to turn real-time data into actionable insights.

"This acquisition will accelerate our strategy to bring The Connected Enterprise to life, driving faster time to value for our customers as they increasingly adopt cloud solutions to improve resilience, agility and sustainability in their operations," added Moret. "Combining Plex's cutting-edge cloud technology with Rockwell's existing software portfolio and domain expertise will add customer value and create more ways to win. The acquisition will also accelerate our software revenue growth and strengthen our annual recurring revenue streams."

Plex's platform is designed to help customers to connect, automate, track and analyze their operations and connected supply chains, which could satisfy manufacturers’ needs to increase production and improve resilience, while driving efficiency and compliance. "Plex has always been more than a company," said Bill Berutti, CEO of Plex. "We have been a leader in the movement to smart manufacturing and a trusted partner to more than 700 manufacturing companies around the globe. Joining forces with Rockwell is great for our customers, our partners and our employees as we move to expand our reach and impact and accelerate our mission to bring manufacturing to the cloud."

Plex will be reported as part of Rockwell Automation's Software and Control operating segment, which provides hardware and software offerings for the design, operation and maintenance of production automation and management systems.

“When customers bring together production schedule information, our customers see big quality improvements,” said Berutti, noting 80% faster inventory returns and 18% higher levels of production output. “The value of Rockwell’s position on the shop floor is a huge source of that value. Plex allows our customers to make decisions in real time. With Rockwell, we’re going to be able to turn the volume on that up to 11.”

Rockwell Automation, together with Plex, is already working with three companies to take their data to the next level.

Southwire is global manufacturer that found itself with islands of automation and disparate systems. By implementing an OT network and pulling together data with context, powered by FactoryTalk Edge Gateway, Southwire implemented the right key performance indicators (KPIs) in a true edge-to-cloud solution that brought the right information to the right person at the right time.

Norbord makes oriented strand board (OSB) and other lumber materials. Norbord needed a predictive model. But industrial analytics require actionable data in real time. Its analytics approach was tailored to improve uptime and reduce scrap.

Fonterra, a global dairy producer, implemented a combination of edge and cloud analytics from Rockwell Automation and Microsoft across 10 sites to create overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) calculations that are available to employees at various levels so they can make better decisions.

“At the device, control, edge or cloud level, there are opportunities,” explained Myers. “FactoryTalk Hub is our newest addition to our portfolio. The tools and applications enable developers to bring designs to market and enable operators and management to drive operational improvements. Plex fits into FactoryTalk Hub to track and analyze. Our next generation of software solutions will help you work better every day.”

Cloud-based MES + CMMS, too

Together with the advanced asset maintenance and management capabilities provided by the recent acquisition of Fiix, a provider of cloud-based maintenance management systems, Rockwell Automation boasts an explanding portfolio of cloud-native solutions for customers' production needs.

“Fiix helps maintenance teams schedule, organize and track equipment maintenance,” explained James Novak, CEO of Fiix. “We made it our mission to not only drive maintenance, but to navigate the change. In a post-COVID world, our customers’ jobs have gotten even more difficult. We’re talking about digital transformation in maintenance—from run-to-failure to preventive to condition-based to predictive. It’s a data-maturity journey. When you get into condition-based and predictive maintenance, you’re getting into data.”

Novak cited a three-step process that Fiix has identified to make implementation easy.

  1. Ease of deployment, management and scalability: “It’s extremely easy to roll out,” said Novak. “Updates to the software are rolled out seamlessly. The cloud-based software is set up like a subscription. All of the value happens during the subscription. We are fundamentally tied together through the journey.”
  2. Ease of use: “Getting insights from the data is hard if your people are not using the system properly or fully,” cautioned Novak. “Ease of use is paramount. The mobile workforce is becoming increasingly important. Technicians don’t spend much time in the back office; they’re in the field. You don’t want to be in a situation where information is only being logged at the end of the day. You want to equip your team with a system that works for them. Customers are using Fiix in conjunction with SAP Plant Maintenance (PM).”
  3. Ease of connectivity: “Our integration hub lets you connect to business systems or collect data from sensors, ensuring KPIs across the enterprise. We’re able to connect Fiix to anything within days, not weeks. We had a packaging company customer that did an implementation remotely during COVID.”

The ROKLive keynote presentations summarized in this report remain available on demand through October 2021. 

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